Tag Archives: death

It’s a nice place to visit, but I don’t want to die there.

I hate drinking water. Trying to drink it before noon makes my lips purse tightly together, my eyes scrunch shut, and my head swing away involuntarily like a baby trying to get away from a medication spoon. Hot weather and physical exertion make water more palatable to me, but otherwise I am as a camel. Or a cactus. My mother nagged me regularly to drink water and Mike has tried to convert me in the past, though he has mostly given up now. He and I are oceans apart on this: he gulps water in huge quantities as though each drop might be his last.

Recently I’ve been hiking much more, including carrying weight in a backpack to build up my strength. (Containers of water make excellent weights, incidentally.)  For as much as I hate water, I love hiking. It’s the perfect activity for me. There’s no canoe to portage, no bike to drag up the too-steep hill, no horse to saddle or shoe or stable. There’s just me propelling me forward according to the laws of the earth and nature. And hikers are, almost universally, friendly, happy people. There’s hardly anyone I meet on a trail who doesn’t have a hello or a smile at the ready. The end of a hike leaves me with a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that I’ve earned a seat at the brewpub and the reward of a dark beer.

Though I’m officially not participating in autumn, winter, or spring over the next several months (I’ve decided that those soon-to-be naked trees, endless cold rains, and murky dark hours don’t exist in my world this year), the weather has lately been purely glorious for hiking. Even the !@!!**& government got its act together and reopened the National Parks, so this past Saturday we hiked the Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River trails at Shenandoah National  Park. Along with being nearly hydrophobic, fully leafed trees make me claustrophobic (no humility here — am I special or what?). The leaves at higher elevations in the Park are past their color peak and have leapt to their anticlimactic  deaths, allowing the extremely late summer (recall my nonparticipation in autumn) sunlight (which I crave like an illegal drug) to filter onto the hiking paths, showing the hand of Midas on the lower trees’ leaves. I didn’t try to photograph that magic. I might as well have tried to swallow the sun.

The Dark Hollow Falls trail drops steeply for about a mile beside a capricious clear stream before connecting to the 4 mile loop of the Rose River trail, which is an up and down affair with rocky and slippery patches. Our pace was steady and felt comfortable. Mike figured later we were walking at slightly under 2 mph. I dutifully sipped water on the way and shed my layered clothing as I built up steam and soaked up sun and huffed determinedly up the inclines. Have I mentioned how glorious all of this was? It was. Glorious.

In seemingly no time at all, we finished walking the loop and re-joined the Dark Hollow Trail for our victory ascent, parts of which are as steep as a Grand Canyon trail. After briefly watching other hikers photograph the falls, we started up that final stretch.

And there I faltered. The beat of my heart was too big for my chest, I rapidly became nauseated, and my body heat evaporated. Light-headedness swarmed over me. I looked sideways to the trail to be climbed beside the falls, at the sunlit glow between the trees, bright and benevolent and beautiful. Yes, it was beautiful. In those few moments as I vowed to stay upright, I could acknowledge and appreciate how beautiful it all was and that I could drop dead in worse places.  But I knew in that instant, too, that I didn’t want to die there, no matter how beautiful it was. I’m pretty good with the matter of dying. There’s no way around it. Death by hiking isn’t the worst I could do. In my opinion it beats death by monotony or boredom, the method of death that insinuates itself quietly and insidiously and with little notice while one lives in bland ruraburbia, that Realm of Nothingness, where nothing changes, nothing happens, nothing moves forward, nothing rules.

I told Mike I needed to sit down and a flat rock at just the right height obliged me. I pulled out the water and started on it. My family history is lousy with heart disease — my mother died early of it and after that my father’s broken heart endured more attacks than I can remember. I banked on simple dehydration for my case, though. It made sense. I’d had coffee before leaving the house and insufficient water and food to see me through our hike. After a short period of rest and consumption of more water, all my systems were once more a go. Mike and I continued up the steepest part of the hike, ate lunch in a sunny spot overlooking a meadow, sent a couple of freeloading ticks to their deaths, and walked another two easy miles on a flat trail.

If I’m lucky, I think, the place where I leave this earth will be wide open with a staggeringly beautiful and endless blue sky and long, long vistas, somewhere in the majestic and harsh emptiness of the  Southwest. A pleasant temperature would be nice, one that would allow for the wearing of shorts, short sleeves and sandals. And I’ll be on a hiking path, suitably wide and not too rocky, with enough challenge in terrain that I could have that sense of accomplishment while loving where I am and what I’m doing. But that’s starting to sound more like heaven, I guess.

So, here’s your chance — tell me, where is your death-wishing place? Where is your golden spot on this earth where you can begin eternity with a smile on your face? Where is it that you want to begin the fulfillment of the often-quoted, “Man thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return?”

Weekly photo challenge: Near and far

WordPress’ current weekly photo challenge is titled “Near and Far.” Sometimes, the two are the same.

 

Near and far

The button box.

I’m reluctant to really clean out my sewing machine cabinet. It’s full of remnants (no pun intended) of another life — zippers salvaged from discarded garments, thread in 64-Crayola colors, a miniature pizza cutter tracing wheel, and silver-toned needle threaders that my older eyes require. The real treasure of this now neglected realm, though, is my mother’s button box: buttons in pairs and more, orphans, shanked and not, most of unknown or long forgotten origin. To remove the box’s lid is to release a confetti-toss of personal memories of my mother, my best friend.

My mother preceded me on the storied sewing path, from necessity. She began by making diapers for my oldest brother. The scratchy feeling of the mint green dotted Swiss dress she made for me, a smaller replica of hers, remains in my mind, 50 years later.

On snowy days when I was young, I would empty her button box on the floor and sort them by color. In my eyes they were jewels, currency for my imagination, tiny rainbows, complete stories in themselves. Like a waterfall, I would pour them over and over back into their box, watching them slide through my fingers.

The button box took on new importance when my mother passed the sewing baton to me, or rather, when I commandeered her sewing machine after she showed me the basics. In my early teens, I began sewing constantly, using cheap fabric to maximum effect through striking and unusual color combinations and styles. Every new clothing fad churned from the sewing machine and I could go thirty days at my part-time job without wearing the same thing twice. Where once my mother had sewn for me, I now sewed for her.  Nearly everything needed a button and my inherited stash rarely failed me.

I sewed, buttoned and zipped my way gaily through school, into the working world, and right into a horrendous marriage. I quickly became a blurry outline of my original free-spirited self:  downtrodden, frightened, exhausted, trying to keep peace and quiet in the house. Eventually sewing became my only permissible means of self-expression, and Mom’s button box supported me. A slight addiction ensued — I could stand at a button bin for an hour, digging around the 5 for $1.00 cards, matching, discarding, feverishly digging again, triumphant with new additions to the button box. My ever-patient mother would find a seat somewhere and wait out the episode.

The button box, and very little else, followed me out of those terrifying years. When I finally gathered the strength to save my life, I ran, leaving everything behind except my sewing supplies. Across country and back I traveled, stumbling and struggling to begin a new life.  My mother was there to support me, without judging me for some of my more questionable actions as I thrashed about trying to find my way. She sacrificed much of herself trying to help me become whole again.

Gradually my world reformed around me. At last there was time for other pursuits — reading, theater, travel. The sewing corner was quieter now, the buttons more for mending or updating rather than new creations. Clothing and sewing became much less important as I caught up on many years of missed opportunities.

The button box reappeared for the sunny day of my mother’s funeral. Caught unprepared by her sudden death, the clothes I was compelled to buy for the service came with the usual unsuitable buttons. Off they came, on went a selection from the box. Mom went to earth, I went to pieces. Wine bottles kept me company for long shaky months.

However, the buttons did not completely disappear. The world blithely kept turning and I plodded my grieving way through its days. By chance, my interest in the Civil War rekindled and once again the button box found its niche. Wide hoop skirts and little girls’ dream ball gowns, with contortionist button-up back openings, rustled off the sewing table. All manner of hooks & eyes, fasteners, and buttons enveloped me as I Virginia-reeled into the next stage of my life.

The dress I wore when I remarried was sewn with the skill and knowledge my mother had taught me nearly 30 years earlier.

The sewing corner is again quiet. But I still have that box of buttons and always will. I handle it very gently, fully aware of its fragility. It contains the story of a significant part of my life, and entwined with that story, a glimpse at my incomparable mother’s brief life.

My mother died May 12, 1998, two days after Mother’s Day. She was 68 years old.

I set the land speed record!

You knew there’d be an earthquake story, and I don’t want to disappoint my 2 subscribers. So, get your favorite adult beverage and have a seat at my virtual knee. Please turn off all pagers and cell phones as I relate the story of my first (and oh please God let it be the last ) earthquake experience.

Once upon a time. . .

Why do kids get pictures and adults don't?

I was in the middle of posting something to Facebook about how wrong it is that adult books don’t have pictures, and that kids have all the imagination they need so why do they get to have pictures when we as adults struggle to envision anything more unusual than a palm tree, when I heard loud machinery approaching. Of course I was at work, since that’s where I do most of my Facebook posting, internet surfing, and YouTube viewing. The machinery seemed to be getting louder, which got my attention away from the computer, since I was alone in my third floor office and the only sounds usually heard there come from my computer when I’m blasting Stevie Ray Vaughan “Double Trouble” or Koko Taylor singing “Wang Dang Doodle” or Buddy Guy doing “I Put a Spell On You.” Since I’m an adult and don’t have the benefit of picture books anymore (see first sentence of this paragraph) I was trying to imagine what kind of machinery could possibly be that loud, and why would it be coming in our parking lot, and why did it almost seem like it was making the building shake. I was pretty sure it was red machinery, though.

The Big Red Machine was coming.

But then the noise seemed to stop and the shaking increased. The entire building was shaking — I felt like I was in a cereal box that some giant was trying to get the prize out of. Then all the little connectors in my brain finally found each other and I had a distinct “oh shit” moment. This was an earthquake, or the end of the world. Now, it’s truly remarkable how many thoughts can get through your brain in the span of about 5 seconds. I did a brief review of what horrible things I might have done lately for which I hadn’t repented and which now might dog me throughout eternity if this was the end of the world. I cast that thought aside pretty quickly since things are what they are and bargaining for salvation at the very end of life just seemed so hypocritical. A vision of the Twin Towers appeared, accompanied by the sad understanding of what those people must have felt as their buildings swayed and collapsed.

Then the true catalyst thought formed — I was not dying in this building at this job. Not for all the monogrammed sheets or Palm Beach hairdressers or private nurses or houses in the Hamptons. There are other jobs or places where being crushed in an earthquake would have been more acceptable — in the Magic Bus being flung into a newly opened gaping chasm with my brightly colored back door magnets the last thing seen as we disappear, or at Catalina coffee shop on Washington in Houston with friends having a latte with a pretty design in foam on top, or at a Robert Earl Keen concert with everybody singing along to “Merry Christmas From the Family.” But not there, alone, in that building, at a job that’s so surreal it defies description. I tore out of that office. I didn’t

Ruuunnn!!!

know I could still run that fast or navigate the switchback staircase with such fleet feet. And clutching the black iron railing as a guide, I could feel the continuous shaking , simply the strangest sensation I can recall ever feeling. I, and everyone else, was completely unable to control what was happening. We were at the mercy of the earth.

I shot out the front door into the parking lot and came face to face with a dozen or so people who work at other offices in my building. And, true to form, my mouth opened up and a mightily inappropriate expletive flowed forth like lava, to be met by uniform glares and silence from the audience. What the hell, it’s a fault of mine, just a total disconnection between mind and mouth.

And the earth stopped shaking.

But I certainly didn’t. Those police shows on TV where they’re all so cool and collected while blasting automatic weapons are totally bogus. I trembled more than the earth had just done, and I’m damn sure Kyra Sedgwick does the same thing; she just looks a lot better doing it than me. And she gets paid for it. But I willed myself to stop shaking. Strangely, though our work phones and internet fail at the blink of an eye, everything was still functioning. Then I saw the true power of media — within 5 minutes the phone was ringing from around the country, with coworkers, family and friends calling to check on us. And the local beer place was offering earthquake relief in the form of $1 off all pints. God bless all of ’em.

Now, there’s a little bit of rain heading this direction for the weekend. I think it’s called Irene. . .